It wasn’t that long ago that 99.9 KOLA-FM Riverside, Calif., was provocative among Classic Hits stations for its forays into the ‘90s. Other stations were planted in the mid-‘70s through late ‘80s, occasionally crossing the date line for an early ‘90s song with a throwback feel—Spin Doctors, Black Crowes, Michael Jackson, “Black or White.” KOLA pushed further, both in terms of era and texture, into the Modern AC ‘90s that most pop stations weren’t sure what to do with: Sheryl Crow, Green Day, Matchbox 20, even Sublime.
Many of those songs are approaching 2,000 spins now, Last week, I got an e-mail from a friend within earshot. KOLA had cut its ‘70s down to less than one an hour, now playing only megahits of the “Stayin’ Alive,” “Hold The Line,” “I Will Survive” caliber. Filtered in over the last few weeks, according to monitors: Train, “Hey, Soul Sister”; Fergie, “Big Girls Don’t Cry (Personal)”; Green Day, “Holiday”; Justin Timberlake, “Rock Your Body”; 3 Doors Down, “Kryptonite,” and others from the early ‘00s.
The ‘00s aren’t entirely new territory for Classic Hits. Many stations had pushed forward to the Uncle Kracker version of “Drift Away”; (it featured Dobie Gray anyway). KOLA and KRTH (K-Earth 101) Los Angeles were playing the No Doubt version of “It’s My Life,” not the Talk Talk original. KRTH went as far as Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” has been OK by mashing up two playable ‘70s songs. But this is as far as a major successful station has gone without an outright transition to Mainstream AC like WOLL West Palm Beach, Fla.
The infusion of ‘00s is subtle—over the course of an hour, you might hear one song. And judging from monitors, KOLA is still figuring out what works. A few titles seem to have been backed off this week, including the Ataris version of “The Boys of Summer” and Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone.”
There’s always a balancing act between the need to share interesting developments with readers, and the potential to touch off copycatting for its own sake. KOLA is very successful, but retweets do not constitute endorsements, at least as it relates to your own strategy. KOLA has done well for years by being both Classic Hits and gold-based AC station to the Inland Empire. Not all the stations that have copied KOLA have as much room to maneuver, and that’s certainly true of the Kelly Clarkson/Pink-era pop that has become Mainstream AC’s omnipresent center lane. In most other markets, it’s where a Classic Hits station need not go.
One aspect of KOLA has turned out to be very relevant in other markets. Four years ago, Classic Hits was in danger of becoming “Classic Rock with Jingles”—Boston through Benatar and Bon Jovi, relying on an occasional Eurythmics or Tears for Fears title for the “pop” component. In a heavily Hispanic market, KOLA has proven that the format’s journey extends beyond Journey. Now, there are other Classic Hits success stories with a more pop feel, including nearby “Sunny 98.1” KXSN San Diego.
Some stations that venture into the ‘90s have added the decade to their positioner. Others have acknowledged it as “seventies, eighties and more.” So what about the early ‘00s. So far, KOLA has done well letting the music position itself. Over the course of an hour, it was “the Inland Empire’s Classic Hits,” “non-stop classics,” and “non-stop KOLA.” My favorite though, at a time of decidedly savorless positioning statements, was this one at the top of the hour: “The sound of summer in Southern California.”
Here’s KOLA just before 9 a.m., May 30:
- Cranberries, “Dreams”
- Eurythmics, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” (:00 song)
- Men Without Hats, “Safety Dance”
- Maroon 5, “She Will Be Loved”
- Salt-N-Pepa, “Push It”
- Bryan Adams, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”
- Cure, “Love Song”
- Madonna, “Into The Groove”
- Commodores, “Brick House”
- EMF, “Unbelievable”
- Dead or Alive, “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)”
- Mariah Carey, “Always Be My Baby”
- Toni Basil, “Mickey”
- Tommy Tutone, “867-5309/Jenny”
- Soft Cell, “Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go”
- Taylor Dayne, “Tell It To My Heart”